GOSHEN — The water is going to rise.
That’s the warning from the National Weather Service, which has issued a flood watch for the Goshen area.
The NWS warned Wednesday that the rain and spring-like temperatures moving into the Goshen area this week will create the potential for serious flooding, particularly due to the significant amount of snowfall the area has seen over the past few weeks.
“We are going through a bit of a warm-up right now, which I’m sure is a relief for a lot of people in the area,” said Evan Bentley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in North Webster. “We’re expecting that to peak around Thursday, where we could see temperatures as high as 50 degrees along with a good amount of rain. Then by Friday temps will begin falling back down again, and by the end of the weekend we’ll be back below freezing, with the temps beginning early next week expected to drop down even lower, into the teens. So it’ll be a very brief warm-up.”
Brief as it may be, Bentley said the predicted rain, coupled with the warm temperatures and melting snowpack, could combine for some significant flooding, leading the service to issue a flood watch for the Goshen-area from Thursday morning through late Thursday night.
“Flooding is definitely a concern that we have, especially in Elkhart County,” Bentley said. “We’ve got at least 3 to 3½ inches of water trapped in the snowpack, so with that plus about an inch or so of rain that’s expected in the next day or so, we definitely have some concerns.”
Bentley noted that water from the melting snow and rain could be even further exacerbated by the fact that the ground is frozen solid, giving the water nowhere to soak in.
“The water can’t penetrate the frozen ground, so it ends up all as runoff going into the area rivers. Then you have the issue of rivers overflowing,” Bentley said. “Also, all of our rivers have a lot of ice on them right now, so then you have the potential problem of ice damming, where if ice gets backed up on dams or bridges, it could cause some significant flooding upstream. We have seen that in past years as an issue along the Elkhart River, so it’s definitely a concern.”
Bentley said Goshen and Elkhart County are likely to get the worst of the predicted flooding beginning early Thursday as rain and warmer temperatures begin moving into the area.
“We’re going to have the rain starting during the early morning hours tomorrow, and that’s going to be an issue because of the fact that we’ve got all this snow, and all the drains are plugged up,” Bentley said. “So a lot of places will likely see a lot of ponding on the roads and things like that beginning early tomorrow. Then as all of that water runs off — so around late Friday and into the weekend — all of that water will be flowing into the rivers. So there is definitely the potential for some flooding over the next few days.”
Goshen Street Department employees were not waiting for the water to back up on streets Thursday. Wednesday three crews were going about the city to remove snow and ice blocking storm sewer openings along streets, according to employees. Their goal was to clear every opening before the rain arrives.
At the city’s wastewater treatment plant, employees know the rain is coming and are waiting for a large volume of runoff.
“We are preparing, we are kind of looking forward to it,” said Larry Keil, lab director and pre-treatment coordinator.
Jim Kerezman, superintendent at the facility said the plant complies with Environmental Protection Agency rules by holding a National Pollution Discharge Elimination Systems permit.
Kerezman says that the permit allows the facility to release untreated stormwater runoff during a rain event into the Elkhart River.
“We have to peak out our wastewater intake at 12.5 million gallons and then the excess flow goes into the storage and then anything above the 5 million gallons that can be stored is released,” he said.
Kerezman said that any rainfall over half an inch puts the facility past its capacity and triggers a release.
According to Kerezman, the facility has only had two discharges from its detention system twice since last April.
He added that there isn’t much to do until the rain arrives.
“There’s nothing we can do, it’s just a waiting game,” he said. “We’re not going to have any problems.”
He warned that wastewater concerns are secondary to what the melting snow and rain will do to local roads and the river levels.
“I think the flooding in the streets and the river levels are more of a concern,” he said.